In many ways, locals are cutting back on some sports traditionally perceived as luxuries, but others are maintaining their exercise routines because they see athletic activity as essential to their wellbeing.

As Sadie Shelton carried her golf bag across Ashland's sun-dappled course last week, she savored every minute of the hour or so she got to spend on the green as a member of Ashland High School's golf team — knowing she probably wouldn't be back on the weekend, unlike in years past.

Sadie and her three other golf partners have stopped frequenting Oak Knoll on their own time in order to save cash, they said.

"I don't come that often anymore on the weekends," Sadie, 15, said. "Sometimes we get free (driving range) tokens during practice and then I'll come on the weekends."

"We definitely have to search more now to find the cheapest driving ranges," added Willie Michiels, 15. "At the (Rogue Valley) Family Fun Center in Central Point you can get a huge bucket of balls for $5. Here it's like $7 for a medium bucket."

The students' economizing presents a small picture of the many ways locals are cutting back on some sports traditionally perceived as luxuries.

But others, in spite of economic belt-tightening, are maintaining their exercise routines because they see athletic activity as essential to their wellbeing and as an investment into their future health, according to directors of several Ashland sports organizations.

Golfing on a budget

While it's too early to tell if there have been significantly fewer people on the green at the Oak Knoll Golf Course, which is owned by the city, according to regulars the course seems to be emptier this year.

"Unfortunately, people choose to eat before golf, which I don't understand," joked Luke Shellabarger, who works at the Pro Shop, a golf store at the Ashland course. "A lot of our annual members are noticing that it's slower."

Numbers available from the course so far seem to bear that out, but Rachel Dials, recreation superintendent with the Ashland Parks & Recreation Department, said the weather could also be affecting turnout.

Between November 2008 and February 2009 the golf course saw a 22 percent decrease in the number of rounds of golf played, as compared to the same period a year previous, according to city records.

That decrease came despite the fact that the course was open three more days between November 2008 and February 2009 than it was during the same period a year earlier. The course is closed during inclement weather.

Still, Dials isn't convinced the economic downturn is necessarily to blame for the decrease in rounds of golf played, she said.

"The recession might play a small factor into less rounds, but I would have to say a bigger factor is the weather during that time of year. If you ask me three months from now, I might have a different answer," she wrote in an e-mail message.

Fewer equestrian riders

The economic crisis is to blame for the number of locals who have given up equestrianism, said Linda Davis, owner of Eden Farms, which boards horses and offers riding lessons.

"Obviously everything has fallen off the saddle," Davis said, "because horses are a luxury."

At Eden Farms' last horse show in late February, half as many people participated as they did in the same event in 2008, she said.

"It showed up in the horse show participation for sure. The first show for the year was the smallest show we've had," she said. For financial reasons, many equestrian students are traveling to fewer shows, Davis added.

Mt. A tries to lure skiers

The Mount Ashland Ski Area is fighting for the dollars that people are willing to spend on luxury sporting activities, said Rick Saul, marketing director for the ski area.

"Certainly leisure dollars are tight and there's competition for those leisure dollars out there," he said. Although sales of season passes held steady last winter, fewer people seem to have purchased day tickets, he said.

As a result of declining revenues, the ski area has decided to close for an additional day next season — it was already closed on Tuesdays this season. Mt. Ashland is also trying to increase its membership program and is offering special deals, Saul said.

"If you put out a good deal when times are tough, you'll get some response," he said.

Stock talk on the treadmill

The Ashland Tennis and Fitness Club is also lowering its joining fees by more than $100 in an attempt to draw new members, as some existing ones cancel, said Jo Wayles, co-manager of the club.

"We've actually gotten new members in March, but have had a handful of people who saw this as something they could let go of," she said.

However, many of the members see the club "not as a luxury item, but as a necessity," she said. "I think in the community it's seen as a very positive place because, when people exercise, they feel better. So I think it's kind of a respite from the financial drain that everybody's experienced. Now that's not to say that people aren't talking about the Dow on the treadmills."

Inexpensive classes on rise

People who are cutting back on more expensive free time activities may be opting to participate in lower cost alternatives, such as the city's recreation classes, Dials said. Enrollment in the city's language, dance and yoga classes is up, she said.

"We think that more people are staying home and so they're doing things locally instead of traveling," she said. "I don't expect to see much of a decline because most of the things that we offer are pretty inexpensive."

Similarly, attendance is up at some classes at the Ashland Yoga Center, said Vanessa Scott, co-owner of the center. Other yoga students, though, may be taking fewer classes and practicing more at home, she said.

"I've heard from some of our teachers that someone who might have been taking two classes a week might only be taking one class now," she said.

But wherever locals are doing yoga, or other athletic activities, it appears that more people recognize the importance of being active, Scott said.

"Overall I think there's a steady increasing of the knowledge that health and wellbeing are important when times are tough," she said. "It costs less to take care of yourself day-to-day than to have something big happen."

Contact Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.